Review by clarkisdark

"Green Bananas"

Back when Super Monkey Ball launched alongside the Gamecube, it didn't prove the system's hardware so much as it proved the system's knack for multiplayer finesse. Several years later, Super Monkey Ball once again arrives as a launch title for Nintendo's latest, but what it achieves is just the opposite of its predecessors.

The first notable change to Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz is its graphics. Gone are the generic 3D renderings of the last generation. In its stead, Banana Blitz sports a cel-shaded look that, believe it or not, makes for one of the best-looking Wii games so far. Cel-shading looks good when done right, and Banana Blitz may just surpass Wind Waker as king. This is what video games should look like. Colorful, clean, and smooth. In a generation where realistic grays and browns dominate, having something like Monkey Ball around is very welcome.

The music has also received considerable care. Before, the Super Monkey Ball soundtracks were plain and boring, the typical thrown-in Sega fair. Banana Blitz's score is excellent, a smart blend of kookiness from Billy Hatcher with the hard edge of F-Zero GX. This makes playing puzzles over and over much more tolerable, because it doesn't grow as annoying as quickly (or at all).

Calling Super Monkey Ball a puzzle game isn't exactly fair, though. It's more like a platformer, which is especially true now that the series has included a much-needed jump ability. The objective of each level is to lead a monkey (in a ball) through mazes and loops, down narrow paths, and around wandering monsters, all within a time limit. Beginning levels start out as simple runs straight down a hill, but later levels start to incorporate spinning platforms, collapsing bridges, and just about everything else you find in your nightmares.

What separates this version of Super Monkey Ball from the rest, of course, is the new control scheme. Instead of using an analog stick, you tilt the Wii remote to get the monkey a rolling. This method doesn't come naturally at first, but once you've gotten the hang of it, you'll find twisting your arm around to be pretty amusing and engaging. An analog stick is arguably more accurate, but playing with the Wii remote is still fun and makes Banana Blitz an entirely different experience from its counterparts.

The biggest drawback to this is actually the same problem that has plagued every Super Monkey Ball game. You don't control the monkey directly. What you're tilting is the actual level. It makes sense, sure, but it generates one of the wobbliest cameras I've ever seen. It's made past Monkey Ball games too nauseating to fully enjoy, but here, combined with the added sensitivity of a tilting remote, it's gotten ridiculous.

It should also be noted that this game is hard. Don't let the first few easy worlds fool you. This game quickly becomes a serious challenge. It eats me up inside playing this, because it's so nerve-racking. Even watching somebody else gets my stomach churning, as there are always way too many close calls. Finally beating a level has that same feeling of when you've been stuck on the road for five hours in need of a restroom then eventually found one at the last minute. It feels pretty darn good to get it over with, but it's debatable whether or not the trip was actually fun. Still, this presents some amazing challenges, and you will always want to keep getting better at it.

Lasting Appeal:
Beating every level isn't as far off as you might think, though. Less than 100 authentic levels made it into this version of Monkey Ball. Considering a good third of these are super easy, too, that only gives you a few hours total to finish it all... given you're a pro. If not, it'll still take the same amount of time for you to get horribly frustrated and quit and never return again. Being able to save replays does give you some incentive to go back and aim for wild shortcuts, though. And a staple to the series has always been a robust and enjoyable multiplayer mode. Sega went overboard on this, though, offering up a good 50 games. When you have that many options, you know there are going to be some stinkers in the mix. Sadly, just about every single game is a stinker. Beloved classics like Monkey Racing and Monkey Target have been completely desecrated, and the new material is so poorly designed or uses the Wii remote with such little success, it's a new kind of torture. Avoid it.

If you want a mini-game compilation that really shows off the possibilities of the Wii, this is not it (see: Rayman). Banana Blitz totally ruins the party atmosphere of the Monkey Ball series with some very slapdash and half-baked ideas. I would have rather seen only a few really good mini-games over 50 pieces of junk. On top of that, a longer single-player mode would have also been appreciated, as it is these sequences where the game truly shines. It's challenging and fun but is just a little too short. We're still in the Wii's launch, though, so there's a good chance Sega will figure things out and release a better ball down the road.

+ Great presentation value
+ Fun, new controls
+ Extremely challenging
-- Wobbly camera still an issue
-- Short one-player mode
-- Terrible, terrible multiplayer

Score: 7/10

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 11/25/06, Updated 11/27/06

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